Captains of the Soul Review for RUSI

October 30, 2015

Captains of the Soul is difficult to review mainly because it is concerned with theological, existential and military matters. It is essentially a scholarly work about spirituality and religion in the nation’s armed services. Gladwin wrote that generals from Xenophon to Bernard Montgomery had believed in religion and faith for their soldiers. So it is of interest to read that there is a Corps today within the Australian Army that caters for the spiritual and religious needs of soldiers when so many people today are atheist, agnostic or recognise their religion only when the census comes around.

The themes of the book centre on the changing role, work and history of chaplains or padres in the Australian Army. The author states that he had charted the origins and history of their efforts. This Gladwin has done in admirable fashion. Padres are primarily concerned with connecting people to the divine. This requires the participants to have faith, defined as ‘belief founded on authority’ i.e. the church and religious doctrine. Chaplains also provide pastoral care, character training and moral leadership programs for members of the armed services. They deal with and answer moral and spiritual questions relating to issues such as the ‘Just War Theory’ i.e.the ius inbello question; and divine, moral and natural law issues when coping with intellectual and existential questions soldiers may ask in times of stress. They can take the high moral ground and will sometimes challenge the government if they believe a war crime is about to be committed, or they can bring the public gaze upon situations which they deem to be unlawful or unethical. Gladwin refers to the ‘role tension’ which padres experience when rendering unto ‘Caesar what is Caesar’s’ (while they are receiving an army salary); and rendering unto ‘God what is God’s.’ The text is focused mainly on the army of today and illustrates how new challenges have been and are being managed. For example, Gladwin refers to the establishment of Special Forces, and the new position of ‘madre’ thatrequire special attention and careful management. Ecumenism featured and the period 1945-1970s was reported as being one of close co-operation. Gladwin reported that close friendships and professional respect developed amongpadres of all denominations. He cites historian Jeffrey Grey who argued that if the Army wants to ‘fight smart’, ‘it must develop the intellectual capacities of the organisation’. Gladwin comments about the need to raise the standard higher in respect to the intellectual attainments of members of the chaplaincy. He would like to see chaplains engaging in discussion about higher strategic and doctrinal theological problems as they relate to military chaplaincy.

Captains of the Soul surveys one segment, but an important one, of Australia’s social make up. It should probably be compulsory reading for all students (and staff) at the Australian Defence Force Academy, thus adding another dimension to the curricula of Australia’s future military leaders. Gladwin notes:

Of equal concern is the emergence of an increasingly pluralised and secular society which will inevitably produce senior Army leaders with diminished Christian sympathies or religious beliefs.

We read ‘the role of the chaplain has been clarified in terms of five key areas: first, religious ministry, this includes worship services and religious instruction; second, pastoral care, this includes individual and family welfare support; third, training, character development and Character Training, marriage, religion and culture; fourth, advice to commanders on welfare, morale and moral issues; and fifth, administration and management which includes liaising with local faith groups and churches’. Again, straightforward and uncomplicated, but the question is: is that all they do? Surely, there has to be a raison d’ĂȘtre for their existence in the nation’s armed forces.

The term padre, an unusual and antiquated title for a 21st century Australian army cleric, mightneed some explanation. Derived from the Latin word pater, ‘Father’, it has come to be accepted as the title for the Clerk in Holy Orders, the Roman Catholic priest, and members of clergy from Protestant denominations who now provide religious guidance and spiritual advice to members of Australia’s armed forces. The author’s background is unusual too. A historian in a school of theology, but with an obvious understanding of Defence related issues and a detailed knowledge of military matters. The term padre appeared in a military context in India c1820. Soldiers of the British Army and the Army of the East India Company had applied the title to a minister or priest of any Christian church. Padre(‘father’ in Italian, Spanish, Portuguese) would have been a familiar title for the Catholic missionaries who were arriving in India in the 16th and 17th centuries. St Francis Xavier (1506-1552) was Spanish; Roberto de Nobili (1577-1650) was Italian; Thomas de Castro (1640-1689) was Portuguese from Goa, the Portuguese settlement in India, and Ephrem de Nevers (1610-1695) was French, so these and many other Catholic missionaries would have been PadresorFathersin the eyes of their congregations. Padre also has connotations with the Catholic traditions of pre-Reformation days, and words such asfriar (Latin frater, French frere) and monsignor (monseigner from the Italian) would come into this category. So it is interesting to note that the title and form of address, Padre, although Catholic in origin is acceptable to most ministers from Protestant denominations (there are exceptions of course) who provide religious comfort and spiritual guidance to soldiers of the Australian Army.

The title of the book also needs some explanation. Padre Hugh Cunningham was a Japanese POW, but the Japanese did not comprehend Padre Cunningham’s special status as a chaplain. He wore an armband, with Japanese script in green lettering, the translation of which was (quite accurately) Captains of the Soul.

Perhaps the best advice this reviewer can offer potential readers is read the Epilogue first to gain an overview. Every page contains material suitable for intense discussion and comment. This is a remarkable, challenging and sometimes moving text. Captains of the Soul the ‘2015 Winner of the Australian Christian Book of the Year’ is another very valuable asset, compliments of the publisher, for the RUSI library.

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